To help eliminate barriers created by Heirs Property and provide resources to advance the lives and livelihoods of Black farmers, John Deere is funding three legal interns from Historically Black Colleges and Universities who will work with families this summer on their Heirs' Property issues.
Heirs' Property is land jointly owned by descendants of someone who didn't leave a legal will, thereby leaving them without a clear title. The land is passed to surviving family members by way of fractional ownership—meaning any heir can divide or sell the land. This is the leading cause of involuntary land loss among Black landowners. Other factors include lack of access to resources and information, and distrust in judicial and legal systems.
The interns will be working with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund. The Federation is a non-profit cooperative association of black farmers, landowners and cooperatives.
"We are excited about this opportunity to expand our long-standing legal internship program with Southern University Law Center," said Cornelius Blanding, executive director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives. "Our partnership with John Deere provides the necessary resources to fully integrate our internship into our Regional Heir Property & Mediation Center and broader work. With these increased resources, John Deere is helping us educate and train Black law students on an issue that is a primary driver in the loss of land in Black communities in the South. The partnership also allows us to increase access to legal services, via mobile will clinics, to rural, Black communities that normally don't have access to these kinds of resources."
In 2020, John Deere announced a new coalition with the National Black Growers Council (NBGC) and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), called LEAP (Legislation, Education, Advocacy and Production Systems). LEAP is dedicated to working with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives to ensure the long-term sustainability of over 60 million acres of land currently owned or farmed by Black farmers. Visit www.Deere.com/LEAPcoalition to learn more.
Khyla Morgan is a year-one law student and is passionate about public interest because of her goal of giving voice to the voiceless. Much of her work has been in advocacy for women of domestic abuse. Morgan is a Posse Foundation and Wentcher scholar and received her BA in Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies, with a specialization in African American Studies from Agnes Scott College in the spring of 2020.
A quote from Khyla:
"I am very excited and exceptionally grateful to have been selected for this opportunity. During the pandemic shut down, I came across a documentary about Heirs' Property in South Carolina and Louisiana and how often the land is unjustly bought and taken from Black landowners and farmers to be stripped of its resources or turned into resorts. By the end of the documentary, I wished I could one day help Black landowners and farmers preserve their rights to land that has been in their families for generations. When I received the flyer for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund summer internship with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, I felt like it was destiny."
Toria Rotibi is a year-two law student who has a background in social work and child welfare. She has experience working in rural South Carolina and was amazed at the amount of access those areas didn’t have to legal help. She is passionate about serving these communities. In her most recent internship, she gained experience in property law, drafting wills and family mediation for succession claims. Rotibi received her BS in Social Work from California State University in May of 2019.
A quote from Toria:
“More than anything else, I am grateful for the opportunity to work with the Federation and the coalition. I was initially attracted to the Federation because of their dedication to developing, advocating and supporting public policies which benefit Black farmers; and the low-income rural communities where they live. This summer I hope to meet new people, assist the coalition with addressing the decades long issue of heirs' rights as well as improving the livelihoods of Black farmers, and broaden my horizons. Working with the coalition this summer will definitely help me explore different avenues of public interest. But I also hope to get a glimpse into the ins and outs of property law and asset protection, and perhaps understand where my career should head in the future.”
Michael Adams is a year-one law student whose passion lies in the advocacy of youth in underserved communities. As a former Mr. Hampton University, he started a mentoring program for the Hampton Roads and in the Atlanta area. Throughout his college career he has held multiple leadership positions which have made him one of Hampton University’s strongest leaders. Adams graduated from Hampton University in the spring of 2019 with his BA in Psychology.
A quote from Michael:
"I spent a large amount of my childhood traveling between Atlanta and two rural areas: Moultrie, Georgia, and Porterville, Mississippi. Within each of these areas resided my extended family and friends. Each of these individuals and areas has played such a huge role in my life. They have shown me humility, love, selflessness and provided me with my 'Why' and reason for wanting to be an attorney. It is for these reasons that I am excited to become a summer intern with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund. This opportunity will combine my passion for social justice, advocacy and defending those who are often forgotten. Additionally, I honestly do not look at this opportunity as a 'legal internship'. This is my opportunity to finally give back to a community that I credit with not only raising me, but building me into a selfless, hardworking and motivated future attorney. I am so excited to begin this internship and hopefully, positively impact the lives of these rural communities."